The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has published a March 2010 audit report recommending several improvements to the National Organic Program (NOP) administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). “We conducted the audit because of the size and growth of the organic industry as well as the public’s increased interest in purchasing organic products,” stated the report, which faulted NOP for failing to enforce program requirements when “serious violations” occurred and for lax implementation of certification standards.

In particular, OIG found that the program (i) did not resolve 19 of 41 complaints “within a reasonable timeframe”; (ii) needs to address ongoing compliance and enforcement issues with California’s State Organic Program; (iii) did not implement periodic pesticide residue testing as required by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA); (iv) did not assemble a peer review panel “to annually evaluate their accreditation process”; (v) did not ensure “consistent oversight of organic operations by certifying agents”; and (vi) did not complete timely onsite reviews for five of the 44 foreign certifying agents because it failed to establish adequate timeframes for these activities. In addition to resolving these issues, OIG has tasked the agency with strengthening enforcement procedures “to determine what actions should be imposed on program violators, including civil penalties, and to timely issue the appropriate actions.”

AMS has reportedly agreed to these findings, including the directive to begin spot testing organic produce for residues. According to the agency’s response, “NOP is planning to implement periodic residue testing by accredited certifying agents by September 2010.” The program director has also requested a written legal opinion from the Office of General Counsel on whether the regulations are consistent with OFPA, noting that NOP will initiate rulemaking in December 2010 if necessary. See The New York Times, March 19, 2010.